Workout of the week: A runner-girl tries CrossFit

Let’s get one important fact out of the way right now: We didn’t play with the truck tire.

But I did enjoy my second foray into the CrossFit world on Tuesday, when I took an (unofficial—it’s called “Boot Camp” class, to avoid violating the trademark) CrossFit class at the gym near my mom’s house in Florida. Based on my experience there, and on my experience taking an official CrossFit class last October for a Bethesda Magazine feature, I have some thoughts and first impressions to share.

What I like about CrossFit:

  • I like that CrossFit is deceptively simple, with workouts composed of basic boot-camp-style exercises (many of which use your body weight as resistance) and Olympic weight-lifting—all functional movements designed to mimic stuff you might do in real life.
  • It’s high intensity stuff, so you get a great workout in a short period of time. The workout set on Tuesday was as follows: 20 pull-ups (I did modified ones with rings), 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, 50 squats. Repeat five times. By the fifth run-through, the sit-ups were stunningly difficult (who would’ve thunk that simple sit-ups could feel so impossible?). Still, the whole workout only took me something like 25 minutes.
  • In official CrossFit classes, highly trained instructors watch carefully to check your form and make sure you’re not performing any movements dangerously.
  • The instructors are big on modifying the movements to make sure everyone, despite any injuries or strength deficiencies, gets a great workout. In the first class I took, that meant a modified box (a stack of 45-pound plates) to jump on to nurse my still-recovering knee after ACL-reconstruction surgery. On Tuesday, it meant using ring to assist my pull-ups, which I can barely eke out one of, let alone five sets of 20.
  • The studio space is spare and kind of hard-core. The Bethesda CrossFit studio, for example, was a basement room with bare walls and a bunch of bars, plates, kettlebells and PVC pipes. The class on Tuesday met outside. Our only equipment: The rings, and a pull-up bar. I LOVE the lack of froufy stuff.
  • Great camaraderie. The exhausted high-fives and breathless words of encouragement exchanged between participants made me think of my running group, which I enjoyed.

What I don’t like about CrossFit:

  • I really only have one complaint about CrossFit: The CrossFit ego. This isn’t unique to CrossFit, of course. Many sports have obsessive groupies who think all other workouts are inferior, and many sports have nerdy, acronym-heavy vocabularies that annoy the uninitiated. But the box (the gym), the WOD (“workout of the day”), the Paleo diet, Pukey the Clown (the mascot)—I’m sorry if this offends my CrossFitty friends, but to me, it all seems a little too … cutesy. I’ve glimpsed the end of several CrossFit classes, and in each instance, I’ve seen multiple people laying on the ground in pure exhaustion, moaning and groaning. Yes, it’s hard. But lots of things are hard. Can you imagine a group of swimmers laying on the pool deck moaning and groaning after a killer workout? Or runners doing so on a track after a set of mile repeats at 5K pace minus 10 or 15 seconds? It would be weird.

All in all, there are obviously more positives than negatives in my opinion. And the instructor of the faux CrossFit class in Florida told me that if I give him a heads-up next time I’m in town, he’ll try to work the truck tire into the WOD. So yes, I will be back.

Have you tried CrossFit? What do you like about it? What turned you off?


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10 responses to “Workout of the week: A runner-girl tries CrossFit

  1. I personally hate it when people call their gym “their box.” I mean, really…

  2. Haven’t tried it yet but I have lots of friends doing it, and who have gone Paleo. I like the Paleo approach and have started leaning toward it in my diet — but it will be a cold day in hell when I give up cheese and bean burritos. Also, who are they kidding, almost all of them cheat and drink beer. 🙂
    Oddly enough I went with Bikram yoga when I took an injury-forced hiatus from running, and I really love it and how much strength work it provides with JUST your own body as the tool – talk about simple and sparse.

  3. no truck tire? the saddest.

    and I agree about your last point. I’m going to start getting off my bike and laying in the street.

  4. Karen

    Thank you! I feel like CrossFit is taking over. All the blogs I read about running and training have shifted gears to CF. My fiancé does it but thankfully has stopped trying to get me to join too. The ego just gets me. The outrageous price that they justify with the “community.” I am just not buying this fad. (ps… Thank you for still running and sharing!)

  5. Kaveh

    Well, I couldn’t help but comment on this post. I guess, someone on the comments has to stick up for Crossfit.

    A little background: I’ve run a couple marathons in the 5 hour range. Nothing to write home about, but I’ve got at least some idea of the difficulty of the training and recovery process. A little over a year ago, I decided to try Crossfit in my pursuit of building the perfect runner and have been going ever since.

    Since then I’ve had a lot of great results. Crossfit has it’s pluses and minuses (Amy’s post does a good job of identifying them), but overall it’s introduced several new sports and exercises to me. I’ve lost a lot of weight for sure (192lbs to 160lbs in 6 months). I credit the Paleo diet for that, something I started at first to clear up some GI issues. I’ve also seen my strength go WAY up. Not just in how I feel, but in actual numbers. I figured it would take a year or so to reach my college levels, but it only took a couple of months for that to happen. The weight loss coupled with strength gains have made my running seem effortless. I’m actually starting to develop “gears” in my speed. I think the attitude and the craze that you see in other crossfitters comes from their own results exceeding their expectations. If you were a 5 hour marathoner, and someone gave you a training plan that you followed that made you a 3:30 marathoner in less than a year, wouldn’t you jump up and down and scream it to all of your running friends? I would…otherwise I’d feel selfish.
    A lot of why I’ve enjoyed Crossfit workouts more than running is that it’s tapped into another dimension of what’s “hard.” In endurance sports, if you want something to be harder…say running mile repeats…you can either a) make them longer or b) make them faster (hence the pace). In Crossfit workouts, there is an added element of making something heavier. The ENTIRE body (or at least my body) just isn’t taxed the same way while running.

    A couple of specific points in “rebuttal”:

    – I don’t have as much beer as I used to, but I make sure to get some ice cream every now and then. Since you’re wondering, the answer is “Chocolate Brownie Brownie Batter” from JP Licks.

    – Karen mentioned the cost and I’m surprised that it didn’t show up in the post. The cost can be very high…nobody can deny this. When you’re at a good CF gym (I don’t say “box”…I also say “workout” instead of “WOD” as much as I can), there are experienced coaches who can help you with the technical movements. This really justifies the cost at the beginning, but I totally understand someone staying away because of the price tag anyways.

    – I’ve got to admit, the community element is fun, mostly because there is such a diverse fitness background in its members. Last Friday, I was getting a spot from a tennis-pro-turned-bodybuilder on the bench press and afterwards had a discussion about nutrition with a former tri-athlete who just finished his Olympic weightlifting workout. Also, while the ego exists on the whole, when you meet the individual people, everyone is always really supportive. Maybe I’m just lucky, but there’s not a single Dbag at my gym…that’s hard to do when there’s weights involved.

    – Finally, the infamous “Crossfit ego”…what can I say? Despite all the “leave your ego at the door” comments, CF’s headquarters really has the biggest ego of all. I mean, who calls their event a search for “The Fittest Athlete on Earth?” A couple of great CF humor blogs have rebranded that to something like “The Fittest Athlete on Earth with Disposable Income Who Is Not Playing an Olympic or Professional Sport.” However, individually, I would say most people are down to earth. Think of how other countries probably think Americans are idiots, but when they meet (most of) us individually, we can be pretty good people. Besides, what group doesn’t have an ego? Runners think you’re not really running unless it’s more than a 10K and they benefit from the glamorization of running (ask anyone what they have to do to get fit and they’ll undoubtedly say they should start running). Tri-athletes think it’s dumb if you’re doing the same thing the whole time. Crossfitters think it’s not hard enough unless there’s some weight involved. Olympic weightlifters think the apex of athleticism is power generation. Powerlifters think there’s no point if you’re not displaying maximum strength. Bodybuilders think if everyone was honest with themselves, they’re doing it all to look good naked (that’s actually probably true). People who play sports think it’s all pointless unless you’re using your fitness. And walkers think everyone else is wasting their time because the key to longevity is a 30 minute walk once a day. Yoga practitioners are the only ones truly without an ego…right? 😉

    In the end, I think all of those groups have something to offer. If you’re in one of those groups and you enjoy it, I would keep at it, but don’t be afraid to try something new every now and then. I’m certainly glad I did.

  6. Wow, Kaveh! Thanks for putting so much time and thought into your response. I really agree with most of what you’ve said, and maybe my rant about the CrossFit ego is a larger rant about people who develop obsessive egos about their sport of choice, no matter what that sport may be (I get just as annoyed when people on group runs spend the whole time tinkering with their Garmins and HR monitors and other gadgets, or when ski patrollers make a big deal out of whether or not you put the chain down when you’re running a toboggan down a steep slope).

    Or maybe this is really a post about how when it comes down to it, I prefer to be a lone ranger when it comes to workouts and nutrition. I eat mostly plants, but don’t want to call it the Paleo Diet. The other day, I did a whole bunch of box jumps, and a whole bunch of squats on a BOSU with a 50-pound kettlebell, and a whole bunch of other strength/agility stuff, but didn’t want to write it on a board and give it a woman’s name. I do lots of different stuff that makes me feel like I’m stronger and have more energy, but don’t feel like any one thing is better than all the others. Can’t we all just get along? And do our workouts and shut up about them, already (yes, I see the irony of this statement coming from someone who blogs about her workouts)?

    In other news: I feel as though I won’t be able to rest until I try “Chocolate Brownie Brownie Batter.” Sounds completely brilliant. 🙂

    • Kaveh

      Next time you’re in Boston, I’ll have a pint of CBBB ready for you.

      Here’s the secret that nobody wants to talk about…we actually all DO get along, even though we talk about the other collective group behind their back. Most people who exercise have some level of competitiveness in them. Most people who exercise also consider it a hobby and are brainwashed into thinking it’s fun (resulting in more picture montages on Facebook of “what my parents think I do…what my friends think I do…” etc.). And that’s all the ego is. Most people don’t really think they’re better than anyone else they’re just happy that they got their first pullup or ran their first 5k and want to tell the world about it. I’m actually ok with all the egos in all the sports because I’d rather them do that then never do anything and complain about how they should exercise more.

      In the end, all of the athletes I described know what it’s like to try REALLY hard for something, fail hundreds of times, and then finally get it (except for the yogis, I really don’t know what goes on there). As a result, if you stuck them all in a room, after everyone was done bitching, they’d all have a good time because everyone would probably respect the hard work they have in common. This comment just got WAY beyond the scope of your article.

      You brought up another good point. If you’re a loner and can’t wrap your head around working out in a group, you might not like CF. I’d give it a shot just so you know, but it might not be for you. It’s cool, some people can work out to videos and some people can’t as well. However, when done properly, working out in a group will push you farther than you can by yourself. We’ve all seen the benefits of doing so while running, and a group class is the same thing.

      Also, if you really can barely only do one pullup, I’d give the BOSU rest for a little while and work on that. It’ll help more than you think.

      • I wish I could let Here’s the funny thing about the pull-ups (I think I can literally do two unassisted—and WITHOUT “kipping,” which is a whole other cranky blog post for a whole other day) … if I’m being honest with myself, I’ll admit that I don’t actually care about doing them for my own strength-training goals or my own sense of achievement/accomplishment, but because—well, they look cool and other people are impressed by them. It’s that part of me (the overcompetitive, egotistical part) that makes me think CrossFit isn’t the right group-fitness class for me. So … I’m going to go over in this corner with my BOSU, and I’ll meet up with you after class for some ice cream, K?

  7. Kaveh

    Don’t get me started on kipping pullups.

    Yes, we’ll meet up for ice cream. Good luck training for the next surfboard-earthquake disaster.

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